Cricket's Notebook Monday, 3 June, 2004 2:47 a m: "I Can't Go on. I'll Go On"

THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide


Thursday, 3 June, 2004 2:47 a m:
"I can't go on. I'll go on"

The Theater Mirror, over the past nearly nine years, became so successful that no one person could keep it up to date. It grew by accretion and accident, adapting and re-adapting as it tried to answer the basic needs of a theater community --- and by shedding its own skin periodically. Luckily, it has spawned several brother-websites that will take up much of the slack this month as I face reality and cut back on my commitment to The Daily Grind.

The quote that ends WAITING FOR GODOT is perfectly apt: I can't Just Quit; my commitment to theater and to The Mirror is too great. Paraphrasing Joe Campbell I admitted some time back that atheist or not I actually DO have a god: his name is Thespis, and I enter his temples reverently two to four times every week. Still, I am, in the phrase from Hemingway's shortest novel "A strange old man" and either I am in the throes of a mild nervous breakdown, or I'm taking steps to prevent one from occurring. (The last time something like this happened it took nine years of therapy to come to terms with the loss; I don't think that will happen now.)

I was astonished yesterday when a high-powered professional p/r person admitted to not knowing that NEW ENGLAND THEATRE 411 existed!
That must change.

For over two years (I am of an age where time evades my grasp at times like water; it's always Now, so the past and often the future are approximate) Jurée James, who is a computer professional, has maintained this simple, elegant tool for collecting and spreading the word about the world of theater. It's less well known than it should be because instead of wasting her precious time in daily data-entry duty (as I have done) she expects YOU to follow instructions and do that work yourselves. And, now that I cannot do it for you anymore, hers is the only game in town and and well worth the effort. What I will do is link the significant pages of The Mirror directly to those on her site. If those pages are less complete than they were in The Mirror, it won't be my fault and certainly not Jurée's --- it will be Yours.

I intend to maintain the REVIEWS and QUICK-TAKES sections of The Mirror just as I do now. The people who send me reviews do the work with no compensation whatever, except possibly free comps to shows. I value their input as much as you do yourselves, and encourage Anyone who sees a show to drop me an e-mail telling what you thought of it. I have never assigned reviewers, just as I have never paid them, but whatever comes to me will go into The Mirror unchanged and unedited so long as I'm capable of doing the uploading. And, who knows, perhaps in my new feeling of freedom I might get back to writing reviews myself! No promises, but watch this space!

You may want to know why I'm doing this. Well, it involves that phrase "so long as I'm capable" and for a full answer I'll need to rehash a little history:

Through the summer of 1994 my friend and benefactor Lee VanderLaan said we needed to make a website and join the traffic on the Infobahn. (Yeah, we talked funny in those days!) I had been collecting the names, addresses and phone-numbers of the theatres listed in the Thursday Boston GLOBE Calendars, intending some day to write a guide-book to all the playspaces in the city, so I suggested something like The Mirror. We put something together, and I was crushed and furious when, instead of getting up and running before all the students flooded back into Boston the operation was delayed till (horrors) October!

The backbone of The Mirror, I thought at the time, was listing every play in the area that I could steal information about. One or two reviews a week (by me) and a "Cricket's Notebook" for more general comments, plus a GREENROOM for letters and interchanges and discussions were there after a short time. And when they began showing up in The Greenroom, AUDITIONS and SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENTS soon grew to need separate pages of their own.
And that's pretty much how The Theater Mirror grew.

Now let's turn to how it decayed:

After a while I discovered JulieAnn Govang's NEW ENGLAND ENTERTAINMENT DIGEST (NOT this website, but their monthly newspaper; I got a copy today, and it's still THE best source of information about theater here that you can find anywhere) --- and I simply stole all her listings for The Mirror's COMING ATTRACTIONS, UP AND RUNNING, and OPENINGS pages. The newspaper contains at least three four-column pages of theater listings every month. I remember, taking everything that was New out of an issue of N.E.E.D. took me about four days every month; transferring productions from COMING to Current and to OPENINGS, plus adding whatever additional listings I found in the GLOBE Calendar or The PHOENIX Online (and taking Out every show that had already closed) took me most of my Thursday Nights --- until I began skipping a week here and there...

Eventually, the other stuff in The Mirror (and some time left over for "real life" like eating and sleeping and Seeing Plays!) ate away at those Thursdays and those monthly nights of data-entry, until I realized I wasn't really doing ANY of the listings, that had been "The backbone of The Mirror" when we started. But that wasn't the most surptising thing:
The most surprising thing was ------- Nobody Noticed!

That's right. It was months, maybe even Years before anyone wrote a note to The Mirror complaining that the three listings-pages were uselessly out of date.

At about that point the sainted Matt Breton appeared, asking if he could do some of the work of maintaining The Mirror, and for the last year or two of his full-time classes at UMass Boston he took those listings out of my hands, kept The Mirror's performance listings the most complete every week of any source anywhere in New England, and probably allowed the whole enterprise a true Golden Age.

But Matt graduated and needed a real life, and he turned his workaholic energies to a career as a Stage manager and backstage techie, which brought the Matt Breton Golden Years to an end. I can never repay him for his meticulous, selfless efforts. (Go TOWARD Matt! And when you look back, smile...!)

By then I had operated so long with Matt's indispensible help --- and The Mirror had been growing, remember --- that when he left I found it impossible to go back to the Listings work. They degenerated into a lonely graveyard, and are that still.

I have tried repeatedly to recruit someone that would help, but sainthood has always lost out to to the realities of data-entry drudgery. Jurée James tried, identified the problems, and went off to make her own website. James Tallach tried updating AUDITIONS and ANNOUNCEMENTS, but he's not only a Stage Manager but a singer and actor and sometimes a bar-keep at Turtle Lane Playhouse "in his spare time" (Insert wry emoticon of your choice here!) and stopped. None of the Intern-programs for students in theater-schools or computer courses have turned up any help whatever. The Little Red Hen has been doing it all --- or trying to! --- for some time now.

And, regrettably, doing it Badly!
Since January I have found it all but impossible to write reviews, and there have been times when two or three days went by with un-attended e-mails building up before I got to them. And the fact is I have and still do take The Theater Mirror very seriously, and hate like hell to see it disintegrate, even temporarily or briefuly. But that just brings up The Guilt Thing:

See, aside from buy and eating food, and letting a long succession of doctors at Beth Israel try to keep me alive, what I laughingly call my Life has had three creative elements that, lately, have come into conflict.
First of course, is The Mirror.
Then there is, related to it, reviewing the plays I have seen (64 so far since January).
But in addition, though I have hardly ever been published, I write stories.

Lately, those three genuinely creative outlets have been fighting for my time, and the guilt has built to breakdown proportions.

If I take the time (and often it does take time) to "dash off" a review, I feel guilty of ignoring the AUDITIONS and ANNOUNCEMENTS and the work of other people in the REVIEWS sections.
And if I take the time to write down a short-story (or, worse yet, a section of a damn novel!), I am guilty of ignoring Both those important parts of my life.
Whatever I actually DO makes me feel guilty of neglecting the other two.
And the job of doing what's necessary for The Mirror is, in itself, too big for one tired old man to handle, so even doing as much of the drudge-work as possible makes me guilty of not doing more.

Is A Puzzlement!

Early last week-end, I began telling people I was taking a year off from The Mirror.
You can have no idea how Good it made me feel!
All yesterday, knowing I would write this, I wandered about Boston, in and out of the rain and the sunshine and a comic-shop and a bookstore and the Beth Israel pharmacy and the local Stop&Shop, reading on the subway the last dozen pages of Alan Watts' THE WISDOM OF INSECURITY and feeling --- free!
And, in a sort of confirmation that I might be doing the right thing, I found on the sidewalk washed clean by the rain first a penny, and then a dime!
When the universe smiles, it would be impertinent in the extreme toask any questions....

I don't know how my theater friends will take this reoganization of my priorities. Once I found that whatever it is within me that let me or made me write reviews seemed to be broken, I have emphasized to everyone that a review from me would be impossible --- and they have been kind and forgiving enough to let me in anyway. I know that reviewers pay for their comps with written reviews, and most of my friends know that deadbeat as I am I haven't the money to buy tickets either. I can tell people that I'm still part of the IRNE Committee and can submit nominations, but that sounds even to me like a presumptuous cop-out. The truth is that I love theater and would miss it terribly if I had to give it up.
Let's say I will sincerely try see any show if invited --- so long as we both know I don't really deserve the free seat.

SO, everyone get acquainted with NEW ENGLAND THEATRE 411 and......

Break a leg all!


THE THEATER MIRROR, New England's LIVE Theater Guide